Published 12:05 am Friday, May 29, 2015

Pleasant Home senior LaDarius Woods receives his diploma from PHS Principal Craig Nichols Thursday night. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Pleasant Home senior LaDarius Woods receives his diploma from PHS Principal Craig Nichols Thursday night. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

214 graduate from county school system

Two-hundred-and-fourteen seniors started a new chapter Thursday as the four Covington County Schools held graduation exercises on a wet and rainy night.

Pleasant Home, Red Level, Florala and Straughn held the ceremony the now graduates waited all their lives.

There was a common theme in each of the valedictorian and salutatorian addresses — moving forward.

Florala High School Salutatorian Katilyn Geohagan said graduation was a moment that many had been waiting for.

“Over the past four years, we’ve grown as a class and enjoyed every second,” Geohagan said. “We’ve witnessed great accomplishments and experienced many trials.”

Geohagan said the FHS teachers spent many working hours developing and molding her classmates into who they are today.

“They did not give up hope that we’d make it to the next level,” she said.

Geohagan said the future may be uncertain, but the path has been built up for a long time.

“This past year, we’ve been each begging for it to end, but I’m not so sure we want it to end,” she said.

Geohagan ended her address by saying that she prays that each classmate achieves their hopes and dreams.

“It’s time for a new chapter in your storybook,” she said.

FHS Valedictorian Morgan Stokes walked through memory lane for her address as she fought back tears throughout.

“I want to thank my parents for their love and support,” Stokes said. “Florala High School shaped me into the person I am today.

“You all have had a tremendous impact in my life,” she said.

Some memories Stokes shared were arriving at FHS in eighth grade, fun times at a talent show and winning the senior powder puff game, 38-0.

“Most of all, I will never forget any of you,” she said.

In the close of her speech, Stokes gave some advice to her fellow classmates.

“Make the story of your life great,” she said. “I hope you look back on your life with no regrets. I wish nothing but the best for y’all.”

RLHS Salutatorian Phu Si Do said the school and his classmates would always hold a special place in his heart.

He joined the class later in the school career, but said many memories were made and he thanked them for the help they gave him.

“I came from a place far away,” he said. “I thank you for the welcome, support and encouragement.”

RLHS Valedictorian Morgan Odom said, “once you’re here, then suddenly you’re not,” referring to the journey through high school.

“How do you measure time in high school,” she asked. “As freshmen it’s class periods.”

Odom said those periods turn into days and weeks.

“Now here we are and our reign is over,” she said.

Odom encouraged her classmates to find happiness in whatever paths they choose.

“Be the best you can be,” she said.

A joyful, yet somber environment filled the auditorium at PHS.

PHS Salutatorian Jon Cole Chesser said his class had thought about graduation for most of their lives.

Chesser recalled special memories while in high school, learning the ropes as a freshman and making it to the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs on the football team.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Chesser said about that win over St. Luke’s.

Chesser said sophomore year was a blur for him and his junior year paved the way for his senior year.

“Our senior year was filled with the best times of our young lives,” he said. “We are more family than a class. We will always have one thing in common — friendship.”

Chesser talked about his season-ending injury during the first football game of his senior year.

“Nothing prepared me for what I was about to go through,” he said, noting that it was tough to stand on the sidelines and not play.

However, Chesser said what kept him going was a change in mind set and realizing that he had to move on in life.

“Whatever path you take, whether it be in the work force, military or going to college, everyone here has the power to be successful,” he said.

A positive and inspiring message was given by PHS Valedictorian Sara Kelley.

“You guys are the best,” Kelley said through an eyeful of tears. “Leaving you is going to make me sad.”

Kelley went down memory lane, which brought many chuckles to the crowd.

“In elementary school, boys had cooties and girls were bossy,” Kelley said. “In ninth grade, everything made sense.”

Kelley thanked all of the teachers who helped her fellow classmates for making them book smart.

“They also taught us to care, help others and work to be a friend,” she said.

Kelley made a goal for her class, adding that she learned a valuable lesson from a poster she found during Christmas.

“The map said ‘believe there is good in the world,’” she said. “‘Be the good.’”

A large crowd gathered in the Straughn High School gym to watch the graduates embark on a new journey.

SHS Salutatirion Andrew Hartzog said, “Our high school experiences will continue to guide us, and our mentors have given us a mental compass to guide us through life.” Hartzog went on to say that the world will expect great things from them, and that the world deserves great things from them.

“We aren’t expected to do these great things by ourselves,” he said. “Matthew 11:28 reminds me that God is my strength.”

He ended by saying, “Never lose heart and never give less than 100 percent.”

SHS Valedictorian Gil Royals spoke about what an important moment it was in the graduates’ lives and thanked the parents and teachers who have gotten them to this point.

“Thanks to all of those people for the understanding and encouragement to get us to this major step in our lives,” he said. “This is the end of one chapter and the start of the next. We have worked hard to get to this moment, but the hard work doesn’t end here.”

Royals spoke to his fellow graduates about the importance of bettering yourself and the world everyday.

“Be all that you can be and make the world your own,” he said. “See to your needs and the needs of others. Take every step in your life with purpose of bettering yourself. The world is ours.”